Peshawar: More than 100 Taliban armed with rocket launchers attacked a Pakistani checkpost near the Afghan border in South Waziristan on Thursday, triggering gunbattles that killed eight soldiers.
It was the second time in a week that scores of militants besieged a checkpost in Pakistan`s lawless tribal belt, underscoring the scale of the threat that Taliban and al Qaeda-linked extremists pose to security forces.
Washington has called Pakistan`s semi-autonomous northwest region the global headquarters of al Qaeda and US officials are increasing pressure on Islamabad to launch an all-out military offensive in North Waziristan.
The Taliban struck early Thursday in Marubi, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the Afghan border with North Waziristan, stronghold of the Haqqani network, which poses one of the most potent threats to US troops in Afghanistan.
"Eight soldiers were killed and 10 were wounded in the attack. More than 10 Taliban were also killed in the retaliatory firing," a security official said in Peshawar, the main town in northwest Pakistan.
Another security official in Wana, the main town of the tribal district, confirmed the incident and the casualties.
Taliban and other militants have carved out strongholds on both sides of the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and last week Pakistan protested to Kabul and NATO over a deadly cross-border attack that took two days to quell.
Pakistan carried out a sweeping offensive in 2009 in South Waziristan targeting the country`s main Taliban faction, but many of their commanders and foot soldiers are believed to have fled to North Waziristan.
Despite Pakistan coming under huge pressure after Osama bin Laden was killed by US troops in a garrison city on May 02, a leading general last week insisted that any operation in North Waziristan would be of Pakistan`s choosing.
More than 4,400 people have been killed across Pakistan in attacks blamed on Taliban and other Islamist extremist networks based in the tribal belt since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad in 2007.
On Monday, four civilians were killed and three others wounded when a bomb ripped through a vehicle on the outskirts of Peshawar, an area where anti-Taliban militia have been targeted in the past, officials said.
"It was a powerful bomb. It damaged a vehicle and some nearby shops," police officer Sajjad Khan said.
CIA chief Leon Panetta, who will appear before the Senate Armed Services committee on Thursday as it considers his nomination to be defence secretary, has warned that Pakistan needs to step up the fight against terrorism.
"Future requests for security assistance will be informed by Pakistan’s response to the counter-terrorism steps we have proposed," he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected in Pakistan on Friday for talks likely to touch on peace efforts with Taliban insurgents.
Pakistan was the main supporter of the Taliban until the September 11, 2001 attacks, after which it allied with the US-led war on extremism.
But analysts believe that while fighting homegrown Taliban, Pakistan has maintained contacts with Afghan Taliban and anti-India jihadist groups in hopes of remaining a pivotal player in the region.
US drones have carried out five missile strikes in the last week in Waziristan, in a move seen as ramping up pressure on al Qaeda as well as pushing Pakistan towards taking its own action after bin Laden`s death.
Drone strikes are hugely unpopular among the general Pakistani public, who are deeply opposed to the government`s alliance with Washington.